By Maya King, Campus Editor
Actress and Howard alumna Deborah Ayorinde (c/o ‘09) has spent the last couple of years in Atlanta and New York City honing her skills as a actress, model and visual artist. Now, Ayorinde stars alongside fellow alumna Simone Missick in Netflix’s Luke Cage series by Marvel. The Hilltop sat down with Ayorinde to talk to her about her journey from Howard to Hollywood (or in her character, Candace Miller’s case, Harlem):
Campus Editor: Who has been your biggest source of inspiration throughout this entire process? Why?
Ayorinde: I would definitely say my mom and my sisters. They have lifted me up, supported me and affirmed me in more ways than I can put into words. Them and God. They’re my rock. I thank God for them every single day. I’m surrounded by strong, resilient, driven, awesome women. There really is no black sheep among us.
Campus Editor: What does being back at Howard mean to you? `
Ayorinde: It’s amazing. I really feel like I’m coming home because I really feel like I’m connected to Howard and D.C. It’s a full-circle moment, especially to be on a show that represents us so truthfully and to have the reception and come back and celebrate that.
Campus Editor: Tell me a little bit more about your time at Howard. What did you do?
Ayorinde: When I came in I was a business management major. It wasn’t me. I was an artist. I was a creative. And I needed to be where that was. After my freshman year I changed to the School of Communications and minored in Fashion Merchandising—two things I’m very passionate About. As far as organizations I was involved in, I was in Howard University Film Organization, Endustry Power Players and Entertainment Law.
Campus Editor: What about your rise to fame? How did that process start from when you graduated to now?
Ayorinde: I always knew I’d be a performer. It’s nothing that I ever decided, I think it was more so the “how” that was a variable. I dipped into the various aspects of the arts. I began to get serious about my acting career while I was at Howard. I got my degree in Film Production and was a rising junior when I got my first talent agent in New York. That’s where I started. When I graduated I went to Atlanta, built my foundation, built my credits and now I live in New York.
Campus Editor: What did you do in Atlanta?
Ayorinde: I mainly acted, but I had every side job known to man. I mean, that’s one of the reasons why I connected to Candace Miller so much. When you meet her, she’s a bottle service host working at Harlem’s Paradise, she doesn’t really like the job but she’s doing it to take care of her family and fund what she loves because she’s in night school to become a nurse. When I saw that I thought, “that was my life!”
Campus Editor: What was the most difficult aspect of your rise to fame and how did you cope with that?
Ayorinde: I can’t really say there was just one difficult thing because, you know, being an artist and trying to make it into a career is a hard thing in itself. Everyone’s journey is different, but I would say that is the most difficult thing—just learning how to make this thing that I’m so passionate about and really enjoy into a lucrative career.
Campus Editor: How do you feel that your Howard career prepared you for your acting career?
Ayorinde: Being at Howard taught me to be bold. It taught me drive (and) confidence. I (wouldn’t be doing this) if I didn’t go to Howard, because it taught me how to never take “no” for an answer. It really built me up as a woman and as a person. It made a fighter. In a good way.
Campus Editor: And Simone Missick, your co-star, is also a Howard alumna.
Ayorinde: Yes, we call each other Bison sisters. We connected immediately. She’s an amazing person. She has such a beautiful spirit and we immediately connected. On set we had some amazing conversations about life, about God, about the industry, about everything.
Campus Editor: Tell me about Candace Miller.
Ayorinde: She works with Luke Cage at Harlem’s Paradise. She gets caught up in a messy situation where she has to choose to either be on the side of the bad guys to protect herself and her family or to do the right thing no matter what that means for her. It’s a great story. I really connected with Candace right away.
Campus Editor: What would you tell Howard students who have goals of making it in the acting business?
Ayorinde: Stay true to yourself. When you’re in a school like Howard with so many strong people and strong personalities it’s easy to try to be like someone else. To say, ‘look at that person over there,’ and ‘okay, well, I need to be in THAT organization’ or ‘I wanna be like her.” And it’s okay to be inspired by somebody, but when you’re in that type of environment you have to (be) more conscious to stay true to yourself. You’re who you are for a reason. So be inspired and be around people who inspire you, absolutely.